Her romance with a car!

Women have always wanted to look beautiful, and men have wanted to ride faster and faster. 100 years have passed and nothing has changed at all. The desires remain, and women and cars constantly ignite the senses.

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Woman’s flirt with the car gained strength in the interwar period. It was then that motorists all over the world sat behind the wheels en masse, manifesting their strength, independence and courage. They have successfully participated in numerous rallies, races and expeditions. Only from the Second Polish Republic we can endlessly mention wonderful women who were at their best in motorsport, such as Halina Regulska, Stella Zagórna, Maria Koźmianowa or Irena Brodzka. The car also became an attribute of belonging to the elite, which is why singers, actresses and artists were posing so avidly beside it. In the National Digital Archives, we can find photos of, among others, Krystyna Ankwicz, Zula Pogorzelska, and Vera Bobrowska, shot with their cars. The relationship between a woman and a car inspired painters, graphic designers and photographers. It would be shameful to overlook one of the most famous paintings by Tamara Łempicka, Self-portrait in a green Bugatti. Speeding, fast cars, beautiful women and a fascination with the body are symbols of the eroticism of the early twentieth century!

Polish actress Vera Bobrowska, 1933 (source: NAC)


In fact, the entire book by Kamil Janicki, Epoka Hipokryzji. Seks i erotyka w przedwojennej Polsce could be the introduction to this article. The topic is so colorful and multi-threaded that only such a comprehensive presentation of the matter could give the reader an idea of ​​what eroticism was like in the Second Polish Republic. First of all, the legislator did not define what pornography is, which allowed for numerous interpretations depending on the need. There was a time when everything that excited was considered pornography, but it is not clear to what extent and to whom. In this way, for example, Jan Parandowski, Zofia Nałkowska, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, and Stanisław Witkacy were considered literally pornographers. [1] Erotica was thorn in the side of conservative and anti-Semitic circles. Father Stanisław Trzeciak, one of the most colorful figures of the Polish interwar church, preached theories that pornography was a criminal and satanic system of demoralizing youth, managed by Jews. It was also debauchery and eroticism that were to be the path to the collapse of nations, and Jewish distributors of pornography were accused of, among other things, the fall of the First Polish Republic and the outbreak of the great war in Russia. Under the new regulations introduced by the government of Józef Piłsudski, each film had to be approved by censors, which effectively blocked any attempts to create erotic films. The law itself was strongly on the side of the conservatives. Pursuant to Art. 214 of the Criminal Code of 1932, the dissemination of magazines, prints, images or other pornographic objects was punishable by imprisonment for up to 2 years. The same was true for people preparing, storing and even transporting such goods.

source: Studio Biederer


Was there a way around the law? Of course! I cannot imagine that the desks of factory owners and industrialists who were able to bring luxury cars from across the Ocean and exotic souvenirs from Africa could lack press for men. Since printers and newsagents were afraid of the legal consequences, editorial offices were more and more often completely self-sufficient from production to distribution. The content was satirical, and traditional photos were replaced with drawings. In Łódź, such titles as Nowy Dekameron and Wolna Myśl. Wolne Żarty were published. These were magazines that smuggled erotic content under the guise of humor. It wasn’t different for Warsaw Amorek and Za Parawanem: pikanterja, sensacja, humor, in which by far the most traditional photos appeared. Tajny Agent published by the Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny and owned by the press magnate and petrolhead, Marjan Dąbrowski was a curiosity. Forbidden content was smuggled between the lines in it under the guise of criminal stories. However, the ideas of publishers sooner or later met with criticism from conservative circles. As a result, each of the aforementioned magazines ended their lives fairly quickly.

source: Wojewódzka Biblioteka Publiczna w Łodzi


The Second Polish Republic needed and wanted spice! Women began to wear bolder clothes, gradually revealing their bodies more and more. Places offering entertainment have become popular. The first plastic surgeries appeared. The Warsaw trial of Dr. Feliks Rostkowski, who has taken life of his patient during a breast reduction surgery in 1934, was publicly spoken of. In 1927, Ilustrowany Kurier Codzienny reported about a factory of pornographic photos operating in Piotrków. The owner of the factory was said to be someone known as Polish Kazik. As a result of the search, one hundred postcard photos of women from various spheres and in the least decent positions were found, depicting hideous scenes and photos taken on the streets of cities. At that time, Łódź was becoming a leader in the infamous industry, which is why scandals there were inevitable. On March 13, 1931, Ilustrowana Republika reported about two entrepreneurs from Łódź who promised young and attractive women from the poorer circles of the city a film career. In fact, instead of making a movie, they took erotic photos, which they later distributed as postcards on a massive scale. But there were also such outstanding artists as the portraitist Benedykt Jerzy Dorys, who created nudes of both women and men, and avoided punishment in the name of promoting art. [2] Due to the universality and availability of photographic equipment, hundreds of illegal amateur sessions were created, which fell into oblivion without adequate protection. Most often, however, erotic content was imported to Poland from abroad, and there is no doubt that its largest producer was Paris.

French model, dancer, and a racing driver – Hellé Nice known as the Queen of Bugatti. Photo probably taken by French racing driver Marcel Mongin. Hotel in Brighton, 1920 (source: public domain)


Before we move to the French capital, we have to go to Ostrava. It was there that Jacques Biederer was born on April 27, 1887. He was born in a Jewish family of Maurica and Augustine Biederer, which won’t be without significance for his further fate. His brother Charles was born on March 5, 1892. In 1908, Jacques decided to emigrate to France and settled in Paris to pursue his passion for photography. He focused his attention on women, usually undressed, with various scenery and landscapes as the background. The artist often used a car in his works, which sometimes was the background of the main events, and in other series it even became the main character. Unfortunately, very few photographs have survived, but thanks to what has been found in various archives, we can now learn about the woman’s exciting romance with the automotive industry a hundred years ago.

source: Studio Biederer


In Paris, at 33 Boulevards Du Temple, Jacques opened the Biederer Studio. Initially, Jacques’ photos were portraits and depicted women in classic poses. Over the time Studio Biederer began to push the boundaries. Photos got more kinky and bold. Certainly, this development was favored by the frivolous atmosphere of Paris and the obsession with various sexual fixations. This also meant that burlesque dancers and Parisian prostitutes, who had no problems with implementing the photographer’s progressive ideas, posed in front of Jacques’ lens most often.


In 1913, Charles also came to Paris to help his brother run the business. In the end of the 1930s, the Biederer brothers created a substudio called Ostra Studio or Éditions Ostra. It was supposed to focus on creating projects of a slightly more delicate nature than Studio Biederer. These were usually romantic outdoor sessions or series of photos telling stories created mainly for magazines. Probably the name of the studio itself was supposed to refer to the native Ostrava. Among the many erotic sessions, Jacques also did not refuse commercial orders. It is worth mentioning here that Mail order sale is not the invention of modern traders. Such a business model was led by companies as Yva Richard and Diana Slip Lingerie. They offered sophisticated underwear for women, fancy headgear, high heels and daring erotic accessories. Photos for postal mailing catalogs were taken by, among others, Studio Ostra.


The photos created by the Biederer brothers are today a record of an unbelievable social change and an image of an eccentric Paris. However, the identification of their individual works is not easy. In 1940, the studio was destroyed by the German occupier, which not only led to the destruction of many works, but also squandered the chance of creating a coherent archive. Currently, the classification of photos and combining them into series is done by such enthusiasts as Karen, who made her collection available to me and introduced me to the world of Biederers. The authors themselves are an additional difficulty. Over the years, they used a lot of markings and signatures, and occasionally, like many other photographers from this period, they did not sign the most daring works at all. Initially, Jacques signed photos with his own initials, J.B. or O.B. Some photos were marked only with the letter B. Outdoor photos, on the other hand, had a numerical signature with a characteristic question mark placed in an inverted triangle. Of course, the easiest way to decode works marked in the lower right corner as OSTRA.

source: Studio Biederer


The Biederer brothers worked until 1940. After the German invasion of France, they were arrested and taken to a transport camp in Pithiviers, 80 km from Paris. The reason was their Jewish origin. From there, they were both sent to the German extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Charles arrived at the death factory in transport no. 4 (June 25, 1942) as one of 999 inmates. Jacques was brought to Auschwitz on in transport no. 6 (July 17, 1942). We can confirm this information today thanks to The David M. Rubenstein National Institute for Holocaust Documentation. We also know from these documents that when asked about their profession, both brothers answered – a photographer. This is where the trace of Jacques and Charles ends.

They were probably murdered in 1942.

source: The David M. Rubenstein National Institute for Holocaust Documentation

Many thanks to Karen for sharing her archives with me
and introduced the world of Parisian photography from the interwar period.


[1] K. Janicki, Epoka Hipokryzji. Seks i erotyka w przedwojennej Polsce, Wydawnictwo Znak, 2015, s. 220 – 225

[2] K. Janicki, Epoka Hipokryzji. Seks i erotyka w przedwojennej Polsce, Wydawnictwo Znak, 2015, s. 262 – 263

Text: Sławomir Poros
Assistance: Szymon Wolny